Vestas to miss next two legs

The Danish-American team pull out of the next leg to Guangzhou and leg six to Auckland. Vestas 11th Hour Racing will sit out the next two legs of the Volvo Ocean Race as the fallout from their fatal collision in Hong Kong continues.

The Danish-American team pulled out of last weekend’s In-Port Race and Around the Island Race and will not compete in the next leg to Guangzhou, nor leg six from Hong Kong to Auckland, following a crash that caused the death of a mainland fisherman in the early hours of January 20 and left the yacht’s hull badly damaged.

“It’s very sad. We really hope they’re back to the race soon and will be in Auckland,” said Xabi Fernandez, skipper of Spanish joint-race leader Mapfre.

“This is not a very big world and we all know each other very well. We all are friends. What happened to them could happen to anyone. We all went the same crazy way through that fleet.”

Vestas co-skippers Charlie Enright and Mark Towill were not at Tuesday’s Volvo Ocean Race news conference at the Race Village at Kai Tak Runway Park, with a spokesman saying they were travelling.

The fleet leaves for Auckland on February 7, before leg seven of the 11-stop round-the-world race departs for Itajai in Brazil on March 18.

“I spoke to Charlie the other day,” said Fernandez. “After we finish in Auckland, the next day of sailing is gonna be in two months, right? So they will have some good rest, some good things and hopefully they will be able to be there.”

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The fatal collision happened 30 miles from the finish line of leg four in Hong Kong after a 6,000 nautical mile race from Melbourne, Australia.

Vestas and a Chinese fishing boat were involved in the collision, which resulted in the death of one mainland fisherman and the rescue of nine others, though none of the Vestas crew was injured.

A statement from Vestas last week said the team were assessing their options to return to the race as they coordinated repairs to the boat, while a spokesman on Tuesday said organizers looked forward to them coming back as soon as possible and that “our hearts go out to all of them”.

Fernandez said he hoped to see the race come back to Hong Kong despite a difficult week, but he dismissed the idea of implementing an offshore finish to avoid a repeat of the tragedy.

“Well that’s tricky,” he said. “We’ve always talked about the same thing, waves, wind and ice, and in sailing the congestion is the most dangerous thing we face.”

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“In the last race two years ago, we were going to Sanya [Hainan] and Qingdao, we went sailing through the coast of Vietnam as well, which was even busier and more crazy than we have here.

“I think what happens is an accident and you don’t really want it to happen. These people have been fishing there the last hundreds of years, so we are visitors coming here at 20 knots in the night.

“We should have reflection but I don’t think this should dictate where we finish the race. We need to be more careful.”